Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Site Profile: Grays Peak, Summit and Clear Creek Counties

B2: Very High Biodiversity Significance

Grays and Torreys peaks

The twin summits of Grays and Torreys peaks are familiar to countless hikers who have climbed these two "fourteeners" in quick succession. Named for Asa Gray and John Torrey, authors of the 1838 Flora of North America, these peaks anchor a high elevation massif with four summits that reach over 13,000 feet above sea level. These spectacular mountains are dominated by scree and talus slopes with outcrops of bedrock. Vegetation is limited, consisting of small mossy areas around snow melt rivulets, and a few other microhabitats where opportunistic species have taken advantage of a bit of soil development.

The Grays Peak site is home to at least eight plant species of concern in Colorado, five of which belong to the genus Draba. Draba is the largest genus within the mustard family, both worldwide and in North America. There are currently over 100 recognized species in North America, with the greatest concentration of species in the western United States. These inconspicuous plants are often found at high elevations, and it is common for species to be endemic to local mountain ranges.

The species of primary concern at this site is the globally imperiled Draba grayana (Gray's Peak whitlow-grass, G2/S2). It is endemic to Colorado, and known from fewer than 20 extant occurrences, all with very low total number of individuals documented. Other rare species at the site include:

Aquilegia saximontana (Rocky Mountain columbine, G3/S3)
Askellia nana (dwarf hawksbeard, G5/S2)
Draba exunguiculata (clawless draba, G2/S2)
Draba fladnizensis (arctic draba, G4/S2S3)
Draba porsildii (Porsild's whitlow-grass, G3G4/S1)
Draba streptobrachia (Colorado Divide whitlow-grass, G3/S3)
Ranunculus gelidus ssp. grayi (tundra buttercup, G4G5/S2)

Draba streptobrachia
Draba streptobrachia (Colorado Divide whitlow-grass)

Draba exunguiculata
Draba exunguiculata (clawless draba)

Draba fladnizensis
Draba fladnizensis (arctic draba)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tales from the Bioblitz - walk with the animals

Here are the long awaited animal photos from this summer's Southeast Colorado Canyonlands Bioblitz. Efforts from the Bioblitz may have identified over 320 plant species, but there were also over 590 animal species found! Getting good pictures of said critters, however, can be a real challenge, as animals have a habit of running/swimming/flying away, hiding, waiting until dark, or otherwise not cooperating with photographers. Luckily, we have our very own excellent photographer, Environmental Review Coordinator Michael Menefee, who took all of the photos below during the Bioblitz.

bullsnake skin
CNHP Ecologist Renée Rondeau and NatureServe Research Zoologist Geoffrey Hammerson display the shed skin of a rather healthy-sized bullsnake.

Crotaphytus collaris
A collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) strikes a pose.

Brad Lambert
CNHP Vertebrate Zoologist Brad Lambert tries to net amphibians at the edge of a pond.

A Killdeer enacts the classic "broken-wing" distraction behavior, intended to draw predators (and photographers) away from the nest.

Back at the ranch (so to speak), Renée holds up a mountain lion skull found during the Bioblitz. An employee of the ranch was able to determine, based on his long experience on the plains, that the great cat died a natural death. Renée is addressing the field crew and ranch hands during the post-Bioblitz debriefing (also known as "dinner") and discussing the importance of local knowledge and how much biologists and ranchers can learn from each other.

Dactylotum bicolor
Last, but not least, here is a great close-up shot of the very colorful painted grasshopper (Dactylotum bicolor). Thanks again to all who participated in the Canyonlands Bioblitz and thank you Michael for the great photos.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bat surveys in inactive mines

CNHP Zoologists Jeremy Siemers and Rob Schorr have been contracted by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) to survey bat populations in inactive mines. These are mines on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Managment lands, as well as other properties throughout the state that are slated for closure due to public safety concerns. Results from this project will help the DRMS prioritize mines with potential for bat conservation, and will recommend best management practices for closure devices that will have the least impact on resident bat populations while still ensuring public safety.

It's either the cyclops from Jason and the Argonauts, or CNHP Zoologist Jeremy Siemers entering a cave to look for bats. We're hoping for Jeremy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rare Plant Conservation Initiative CAP meeting: Gateway

By Bernadette Kuhn, CNHP Botanist

If you have ever been to the tiny town of Gateway, Colorado, you no doubt remember being dumbfounded by your first glimpse of the Palisade. Truly one of Colorado's most jaw-dropping landforms, this giant red sandstone fin rises dramatically above the Dolores River. Sections of the massive rock walls rise 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. Located 50 miles southwest of Grand Junction, the uppermost portion of the Palisade is designated as a Wilderness Study Area (WSA) by the Bureau of Land Management. The Palisade WSA includes 26,000 acres of steep cliffs and rugged canyons.

Participants for CAP field trip in Gateway mill around a Dolores River skeleton plant (Lygodesmia doloresensis). From far left (Ellen Mayo, Peggy Lyon, Jeff Peterson, Jim Kelleher, and Betsy Neely).

This rugged Mesa County gem is home to Fisher Towers milkvetch (Astragalus piscator), horseshoe milkvetch (Astragalus equisolensis), Dolores River skeleton plant (Lygodesmia doloresensis), and Osterhout cat's-eye (Oreocarya osterhoutii). Our most recent Conservation Action Planning (CAP) meeting was held in Gateway, hosted by Rare Plant Conservation Initiative (RPCI) leaders Susan Spackman Panjabi and Betsy Neely along with Peggy Lyon, and focused on these four rare plants.

Oreocarya osterhoutii
Osterhout cat's-eye (Oreocarya osterhoutii). Photo courtesy of Bill Jennings,

Our group included representatives from the CNHP, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Dept. of Transportation, Mesa County Weed Department, Mesa County Transportation Department, Colorado Environmental Coalition, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservancy, and Mesa Land Trust.

CAP participants gathered around a Dolores River skeleton plant (Lygodesmia doloresensis). From far left (Betsy Neely, Jeff Peterson, Peggy Lyon, Ellen Mayo, Jude Sirota, Jim Kelleher).

The priority action areas for the workshop are the Dolores River floodplain and slopes below the steep cliffs, which rise on both sides of the river. This area is ranked by CNHP as having Outstanding Biodiversity Significance (B1). Although our workshop focused on rare plant species, records of breeding Peregrine Falcons and Black-throated Sparrows have also been documented here, as well as the state imperiled longnose leopard lizard.

Our group worked together to identify stresses to the rare plants (current, future and potential), then developed strategies to address them. We also identified the knowledge gaps and monitoring needs for the rare plant species.

Our next CAP meeting is scheduled for this Thursday, August 19, in Pagosa Springs.

Exploring the hills above the Dolores River looking for horseshoe milkvetch (Astragalus equisolensis). From left (Jeff Peterson, Ellen Mayo, Peggy Lyon, Betsy Neely, Jude Sirota, Jim Kelleher, and Susan Spackman Panjabi).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ecological systems: Spruce-Fir Forests


These high elevation forests cover about 5% of Colorado's landscape, and are characterized by dense stands of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. This is one of the few Colorado forest types that is not fire-adapted - the typical fire return frequency is around 400 years! Areas with spruce-fir forest typically receive a lot of precipitation in the form of snowfall and frequent summer showers, but droughts can occur. During drought periods the stressed trees become susceptible to spruce-bud worm outbreaks, which can kill entire hillsides of trees in one summer. In the early 20th century, much of Colorado's old-growth spruce-fir was cut for timber.

Species characteristic of these heavily wood habitats include pine marten, lynx, red squirrel, snowshoe hare, boreal owls, elk, grey jay, and Clark's nutcracker. Although much of this system is now made up of younger trees, it is still possible to find very old widely-spaced trees with yellow bark and snags and downed trees that create perfect habitat for cavity-nesting birds and pine martens.

Clark's nutcracker
Clark's nutcracker.

pine martin
A pine martin tries to avoid having its picture taken.

Although forest habitats including spruce-fir occupy over 20% of Colorado's landscape, few rare species are found in these habitats. Boreal toads were once a common species in small wetlands within high altitude coniferous forests in the Colorado Rockies. Today very few healthy populations exist; most have apparently succumbed to chytrid fungus infestation. Lynx and boreal owls spend most of their time in or near large stands of spruce-fir forests.

Overall biodiversity, threat, and protection status scores for spruce-fir in Colorado.

As with alpine tundra, Most of spruce-fir forests in Colorado are federally owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, with a significant proportion in wilderness status. In general, spruce-fir forests in Colorado are healthy, intact, and well protected. Although this ecological system is heavily used for recreation and other human activities, its overall threat status is generally low. Global climate change may have significant impacts on this system in the future.

A "windrose" graph depicting spruce-fir status for individual scoring factors.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Data on website updated for 2010

The data that we have available for download and viewing on our website has been updated for 2010. This includes updated potential conservation area reports; downloadable GIS data for element lists by 7.5 minute quad, potential conservation areas, and network conservation areas; updated tracking lists; and an updated interactive map of where CNHP is working this year.

These datasets get updated annually and they are available for free for non-commercial purposes only. For more up-to-date, detailed, specific, and/or commercial use information please contact our Environmental Review Coordinator, Michael Menefee.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Conservation Planning Short Course for Practitioners and Students

A field based conservation planning four day course will be taught at Colorado State University September 14-17. CNHP Director and Chief Scientist Dave Anderson and Senior Botanist Susan Spackman-Panjabi will be among the instructors teaching the course.

The course is designed to advance the skills involved in the collection and management of field data as they apply to natural resource conservation. The course is for both professionals and students looking to gain hands-on experience necessary to successfully manage conservation projects.

Course Objectives:
  • Participant will develop a basic understanding of conservation planning and its application in achieving positive conservation outcomes.
  • Participants will acquire field project planning skills and learn how these contribute to successful conservation outcomes.
  • Participants will gain an understanding of field data collection techniques using a site specific approach to evaluating the pieces, patterns and processes which make up the architecture of conservation planning.
  • Participants will learn some basic skills in the use of developing field maps using GIS and GPS technology for the purpose of completing field work for conservation plans.
This opportunity is presented by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, CSU's Center for Collaborative Conservation, The Conservation Cooperative, and BIO-Logic, Inc. See the full announcement for more information and to register. Register by August 31 to receive the early registration rate.